Steve Chambers reckons being decisive is one of the things that allows some people to get more done than others. “You can spend an enormous amount of time contemplating or trying to get a bit more information,” the Visa Europe CIO says. “But I think there’s a real skill involved in knowing and recognising when you have enough information to make a decision.
“I practice that a great deal. If I can’t see obvious reasons not to do something or obvious flaws in doing something, then nine times out of 10 I’m very prepared to make a decision to allow it to move forward on the basis that we have enough information and there don’t seem to be flaws. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be good enough for the situation. I think that notion, more than anything else, lets me get through an awful lot.”
That’s not to say you shouldn’t go back and check up on the choices you made to take a given path. “New information is always becoming available. And we do check from time to time to ask if decisions we made are still valid. We don’t angst about it. We just take a rational look at whether we need to make changes and then get on with it,” he explains.
Chambers believes a second aspect of getting a lot done is proper delegation. If you try to make every decision yourself, or if you force yourself into the middle of everything, you wind up with terrible bandwidth. “Even if you’re the most skilled at doing a particular task, you’re cutting down on your team’s total output if you keep things for yourself,” he says.
The Visa CIO’s advice is to spend time building strong teams. Invest heavily in them. Spend time on personal development of the people around you and empower them to get on with things. “I don’t go out and hire good people, pay them good money, and invest in their capabilities only for me to have to do their jobs for them,” he says.
For delegation to work, you have to build a relationship of trust with your team. “It’s a mistake to micromanage because you disempower people from fulfilling what they can do for you,” he says. “They begin not to trust themselves and not trust your trust in them.
“However, I will meet with them on a regular basis and go over the formal checkpoints on whatever it is they’re doing. Beyond that I’ll ask them how they feel about it? Do they have any concerns? It’s engaging their emotions about the state of the project they’re delivering. The minute you do this you start to find out whether or not they’re feeling confident and in control or whether there is something that’s worrying them. That’s when you can begin to offer support. You have to show them that if something’s going wrong, that’s not necessarily a problem. You don’t lock them up and throw away the key because something’s going wrong. But the point needs to be raised and you need to take other actions.”
A third important skill is to separate out what’s urgent and necessary from the noise. Chambers says he actively kills things off if he sees them using up peoples’ energy and they’re not contributing to the overall purpose of Visa.
“If we focus on the things that have the highest criticality first then obviously they’re generating the highest contribution back into the business,” he explains.
The fourth important element of personal productivity is exercise. A good workout relieves stress, gives you more energy and provides quality thinking time. It’s also a good way to build relationships.
For the last three years, Chambers has run a team-building exercise alongside some fund-raising for Unicef. This year he took 50 people on a four-day cycling trip from Paris to Geneva.
“That’s a fantastic team-building exercise, because it’s so challenging”, says Chambers. “We cycle up to 100 miles a day. People genuinely have to dig deep. It has a massive bonding effect on the group, not to mention the fact we raised around €90,000 for charity.
“Everybody on that ride gets to know everybody else, so the people networks get reinforced, and I took representatives from seven suppliers: this helps build a very strong strategic supplier network.”
Four days cycling across France? Building stronger internal and external networks? Raising €90,000 for charity? That’s getting a lot done.